Communities and Local Government CommitteeWritten evidence submitted by Herts Young Homeless

Executive Summary

The realities of Local Authorities power and ability to deal with “rogue” landlords

The realities of using the private rented sector for those on low incomes.

Affordability, suitability and availability of private rented accommodation.

Tenancy security, the impact on both tenant and landlord and suggested changes to the Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement.

Why it is vital that Local Authorities statistics are monitored and the evidence this will provide government, from a “ground level” perspective.

Please refer to the “factual information and recommendations for action” section for more details on the above.

Brief Introduction of the Submitter

We are an independent registered charity, established in 1998, to help young people secure and maintain appropriate accommodation by providing information, support and help in a crisis. hyh works with other agencies throughout Hertfordshire towards improving local provision and preventing youth homelessness. We believe that safe and secure accommodation is the essential foundation from which young people can achieve a successful independent life. Our mainstream services are Advice and Information, Floating Support and Crashpad and we have a number of other services which support and complement this work in areas such as Health, Mediation and Education. We are constantly exploring new ideas in an effort to achieve our goal of preventing youth homelessness.

For more information please visit our website:

Factual Information and Recommendations for Action

1. The quality of private rented housing, and steps that can be taken to ensure that all housing in the sector is of an acceptable standard

The recent document issued for consultation in May 2012, Homelessness (Suitability of Accommodation) (England) Order 2012—Consultation, in hyh’s opinion is a good start. However, for this to be successful it needs to be enforced by local authorities and any concerns regarding rogue landlords must be followed up and resolved using this and other relevant guidance.

At present we do not believe that local authorities have allocated individuals, teams or departments to deal with this and the response to rogue landlords is very ad hoc depending on the area. hyh believe that if the local authorities chose to use the private sector to deal with demand they should be putting measures in place to monitor this internally and be given the resources to fund it adequately. This could include building relationships with local landlords, viewing properties to make sure the suitability guidance is met and taking action when this is not happening. If this monitoring were to include all private landlords and not just those who are used by LA’s to discharge homelessness duty, it will act as prevention of homelessness.

2. Levels of rent within the private rented sector—including the possibility of rent controls and the interaction between housing benefits and rents

hyh firmly believe that the private rented sector is a growing competitive market and many people (including those who work) have been priced out of certain areas in the county. This issue is magnified when someone on housing benefits is seeking private sector accommodation. Private sector landlords do not have any statutory responsibility towards the vulnerable and their priorities are not to provide affordable housing to members of the public. Therefore they are able to increase their rents to what they see as competitive for the area, regardless of need. This results in prices for properties greatly varying over a very small area. For instance, costs in Hertford far exceed those in Waltham Cross, although both are subject to the same Housing Allowance rate. The distance between the two is minimal, however private renting, for individuals on benefits or with a low income in the Hertford area, is virtually impossible. This in time will cause a social divide between those who are better off and those on low incomes, whether they are working or claiming benefits.

Another common situation is that the Single Room Allowance is well below the price of a room in shared houses across all areas. The complexity and problems with the current system only serve to make people on benefits less attractive to landlords. Therefore landlords, who have the choice, are choosing not to accept those on benefits.

Regarding rent controls, hyh agrees that something needs to be done in order to make housing (which is a basic necessity for everyone) affordable. As pointed out above, the current high cost of private rented housing affects those who are working as well as those claiming benefits which is a major concern. We have discussed many options but understand that due to the size of the problem, it cannot be resolved without a negative impact in another area. For instance:

Rather than having a blanket cap on rents, should these be agreed depending on an assessed rental value for each particular house? The amount of rent charged would then more accurately reflect the true market rental value of the property at that time. This could be carried out by individuals in a similar role to the “Housing Benefit rent assessors” who were based in the Housing Benefit departments of each Local Authority.

If the rent was capped, this would have an impact on some current landlords who require a certain level of rent to cover the high cost of a mortgage. This would need to be considered and appropriate measures put in place

3. Regulation of landlords, and steps that can be taken to deal with rogue landlords

As stated above, as the private rented sector is becoming a major player in housing need, it is essential that this sector is regulated property. hyh believe that designated teams, possibility within the local authorities should be set up to monitor a range of areas, including those mentioned in 1 above.

This team’s role should not only be to look at individual landlords, but also at letting agencies and the information and advice they are providing as, in hyh’s experience, it is not just the landlords themselves who are “rogue”. We also believe that the landlords need a free advice service where they can easily ask questions and clarify their roles and responsibilities, again this will all require extra funding from government.

If a landlord persistently fails to provide suitable accommodation we understand that they can currently be fined by a court. However from hyh’s experience instances of a local authority taking a landlord to court are very ad-hoc. There needs to be consistent consequences for rogue landlords and the local authorities need to be given resources to be able to mete these out. hyh also feel that a fine is sometimes not sufficient. Again, if the landlord is persistently not adhering to guidance then there should be an option of stopping those landlords being able to let properties in the future, whether permanently or for a set period of time.

4. Regulations of letting agents, including agents’ fees and charges

This is not an area of expertise for hyh. However we do believe that letting agencies are charging increasingly unrealistic fees to prospective tenants for administration charges, holding fees etc. These charges are further contributing to making renting an unrealistic option for those on low incomes, especially when they also have to pay the deposit (which is also increasing) and usually months in advance before they move in.

5. The regulation of housing in multiple occupation (HMO’s) including the operation of discretionary licensing schemes imposed by a local authority for a category of HMO in its area

As hyh do not have extensive knowledge on this subject we do not feel it would be appropriate for us to comment.

6. Tenancy agreements and length and security of tenure

As we are all aware, private renting tenants are issued with an Assured Shorthold tenancy. As it stands, after six months or a year, depending on the original term agreed, landlords are able to evict tenants without any grounds as long as the correct procedure has been followed and paperwork issued.

In practice hyh have found that some evictions are imposed simply because the landlord does not like the tenant, not because they have broken their tenancy agreement or because the landlord requires the property back. In hyh’s experience many tenants are nervous of reporting sub-standard properties as they are worried they will be evicted because the landlords see them as “a nuisance”.

When this does happen the landlords are not culpable because Assured Shorthold tenancies do not require grounds for eviction, as long as the eviction process has been followed correctly and right notice periods and paperwork have been issued. In practice finding private renting accommodation for those on low incomes is extremely difficult as these people are not as desirable to landlords, especially when they have their pick of “professional” people who cannot afford to buy. This causes an extra worry for tenants, therefore the risk of eviction is more concerning for them. This can also apply to professional renters due to the competition for private rented properties.

hyh would suggest that the all Assured Shorthold tenancies are reviewed and grounds for eviction are incorporated. A balance needs to remain, so that tenants have more security landlords have the flexibility of reclaiming their property if they need to move back in or sell for their own financial purposes. hyh propose that the “grounds for eviction” are based on the existing ones in secure and assured tenancies. However, they should also have others rules stating that landlords can evict if they can prove that they need the property back for their own purposes such as moving back in themselves or selling the property. If this was possible, it would mean that the landlords cannot evict without a justifiable reason.

hyh believes that the tenancy term should be minimum of 12 months, as this is fair on the landlord and tenant as it gives the tenant security for a reasonable length of time.

7. How local authorities are discharging their homelessness duty by being able to place homeless households in private sector housing

If the above suggestions were implemented, hyh do not have any concerns with local authorities’ discharging their duties into private rented accommodation as long as the accommodation is suitable and affordable. hyh have been working with privaterental landlords for many years, but landlords who accept those on low incomes are extremely rare. As stated above, due to demand, landlords are able to cherry pick tenants. In addition they of course do not have any responsibility towards the vulnerable in society. Low income tenants will also have additional limitations on choice of area, as in many areas across the country the rental price is extremely high. This issue will certainly cause a social divide.

hyh strongly believe that it is vital that local authorities’ statistics are monitored as this will provide a realistic view on what is happening on the ground. As we are aware that discharging duty into private rented accommodation will only be possible for a limited number of people due to high prices, lack of availability, lack of suitability etc., the council’s statistics should mirror this. If a local authority’s statistics show that a large number of their cases are being discharged in this way, in reality it is highly likely that they are not providing suitable accommodation for those in need.

Previous changes in law have shown similar trends. An example of this is when 16 & 17yr olds became part of the priority need categories in 2002. As soon as this new category was introduced there was a dramatic increase in acceptance of young people. The statistics then showed, in the years that followed, a huge decrease in acceptances. These numbers decreased so much they have actually fallen below the original amount of acceptances. For instance, in 200001 4,960 young people were accepted as needing accommodation, this was before they were deemed to be a vulnerable priority need group. The few years that followed the change in law saw a huge increase in acceptance, then after this time a sudden drop. So actually, young people in need were better off before the changes in law.

The table below refers:

Statutory Homelessness Acceptances



Young People*

























* Young people include 16/17 year olds and 18/19/20 year old care leavers.

hyh have been supporting young homeless people for many years, since well before 2002. The above statistics do represent what was happening on the ground, but not in a positive light. In hyh’s opinion the drop in acceptance was due to local authorities making harsher and unlawful decisions because they were unable to cope with the change in need.

This example can be used to monitor the performance of local authorities given the change allowing them to discharge duties to the private rented housing sector. If a local authority is discharging its duties to the sector in high numbers this should trigger an investigation to make sure the discharges are fair and lawful.

January 2013

Prepared 16th July 2013